Last Autumn I went on a Bloomsbury tour of Sussex and visited the country houses of the Stephen sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Monks House in Rodmell was Virginia's house. It is a small, understated cottage with a large garden that stretches out into the Sussex downs where Virginia used to go on regular walks. It is owned by The National Trust, but is lived in by a couple who occupy the upstairs rooms but have left the downstairs areas as Leonard and Virginia would have had them. Monks House was very much a retreat from London for the Woolf's, especially in the late 1930's when London was in the middle of the blitz. It may have been safer to be in the countryside, but it was very much at the centre of the conflict, with The Battle of Britain being fought in the skies above.
My favourite part of the house and gardens was Virginia's writing room, which is a small shed at the bottom of the garden containing a desk, chair and a few simple items.
Just behind the writing shed are the huge vegetable patches that are bigger than my entire garden. I really enjoyed visiting Monk's House because it is was where Virginia Woolf had lived and written some of her novels from. Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite writers, but I only began to enjoy reading her work after I had read about her life. I am fascinated by the connections between her life and her writing and I don't think that you can truly appreciate one without the other. Being able to see some of the places that she writes about in her diaries adds a whole new depth to reading them.
The visit to Charleston, Vanessa Bell's house, was very much an after thought. The trip itself was another mother/daughter outing and it was my mum who suggested that we call in at Charleston as well. It made sense as it was just down the road from Monk's House, they have a lovely cafe where we were able to have lunch and it was very much a central part of the Bloomsbury Group. I am really pleased that we did this as it is the most beautiful farmhouse and it has been preserved just as Vanessa left it, so it is full of all of the art work she did. Each of the rooms of the house has been decorated by Vanessa, with bold patterns on the walls, doors and fireplaces and contain objects made by various of her artist friends. My favourite room was Vanessa's bedroom which is connected to the studio (which is a brilliant, light space) as well as having two double doors that open out onto the garden.
And it really is a fantastic garden. It is much less formal than Monk's House and the borders are full to bursting with brightly coloured, scented flowers.
Vanessa took her artistic talents outside and there are little touches of her art all over the garden such as these tiles.
I can't decide which house I prefer because I liked them both, but for different reasons. I know that I would love to live in either of them and I took lots of photos and found it very inspiring for things to try in my garden.